Why Earthbags?

I’ve been asked several times “Why did you decide to build with earthbags?” There are several reasons why my wife and I chose this method of construction. One is that we were able to quickly develop the skills needed to build this way. It’s pretty simple actually. Another is that it’s affordable. I bought 3000 grain bags for $600 and still have quite a few left over for some other projects. Our fill is made of clay-rich soil and reject crusher fines from a local gravel pit. The crusher fines cost me $1.25 per cubic yard. The clay was free. It’s just been laying around my property for about a million years or so. All the tools were pretty cheap to buy or easy to build myself.

We were looking for something that just the two of us would be able to do with no outside help. Paid contractors cost a lot and friends who offer to help just want to visit, get in the way and eat some barbecue. So we did it all ourselves. We also wanted to show others interested in possibly building their own home that it CAN be done with very few resources.

Of course there are other options. Straw bales certainly have advantages when it comes to insulation, but small square bales aren’t as easy to come by around here as they used to be. Cob is easy to make and super cheap but I wasn’t looking forward to putting my feet through that much pain. (I actually used cob for the office portion of our new home, and it worked great). Originally the plan was to build an earthship. Tires rammed full of earth make very solid walls (but so do earthbags). During research however, I came across a site detailing some of the negative issues with this method. It said several had been started and abandoned for various reasons, usually the intense amount of labour required. The line “U-shaped piles of broken dreams” first made me laugh, then rethink my approach to my goals.

Why do any of this in the first place? We want to have a home that will last us the rest of our lives. I’m in my late forties, so I figure I’ve probably got about another 70 years or so to go. I sure as hell don’t want to be building another home when I’m 120. Seriously though, this structure is part of my retirement plan. It should last a VERY long time. Also, passive heating and cooling is part of the design, allowing us to be energy self-sufficient. We’ll be off grid, producing all our own electricity using solar and home built wind turbines.

Here’s another question I get asked all the time, “When will that solar stuff pay off? You could probably stay on the grid forever with what it’s costing you”. This one causes me to ‘get up on my hind legs’ a bit. First of all, when will that 40 inch flatscreen TV you bought to replace your 32 inch pay off? Oh, I see, never. When will that shiny SUV or BMW pay for itself? What, it’s worth less than what you owe on it? Mmm Hmm.

The power around here goes out all the time, often for no apparent reason. My system will pay for itself the first time I don’t loose a freezer full of meat. Or when the entire grid goes down (yes, I do believe that will happen) and I don’t even notice. Not paying the greedy, uncaring overpriced power company every month is a nice perk too. At one point, the power company threatened to cut off my power if I didn’t pay another person’s bill. “Sorry Mr. Muddome”, they said, “It’s right here in the computer. Sure it’s not your name or land location, but the computer says you should pay it. And since it’s really cold outside, we’re pretty sure you will see it our way.” I guess my system pays for itself the first month I no longer have to pay the power company.

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Earthbag home photos

View from the front. The rock retaining wall for a garden along the front is our project this weekend. It runs the length of the house and will be about 2.5 feet tall.Image

Picture of the back, which faces north. This will be bermed quite deep with only the windows of the office space peeking out.

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The other night was a lot of fun. We fired up the mass heater and listened to music and danced. The acoustics in the round room are amazing. Our couch not only provided a toasty place to sit, but made our tea for us too. We’re looking forward to cooking all kinds of things on it.

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And for the bulk of the cooking and additional warmth in the kitchen, there is this wood cookstove.

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Having water is kind of important. Our inside tank now has almost 6000 litres of harvested rainwater stored for the winter.

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Earthbags done!

A little while back the Prime Minister of Canada finalized an agreement with the State of Michigan to build a brand spanking new bridge. Yeah, so what? Deals like this go on all the time between our two countries. Well not quite like this one. Our goofy Prime Minister has insisted on paying for the whole thing! What a generous man he is. He still hasn’t figured out how or when to use his ridiculous fake smile. I understand that next week Harper will be making an announcement offering a pony to every American who wants one.

Perhaps a good opportunity to use that fake smile would have been to show up at the UN and listen to the speech from Iran’s leader. I watched it on the Web, so I guess if Mr. Lizard Smile wants to know what’s happening with Iran he’ll have to give me a call.

In other news, Mrs. Mud and I have laid our last earth bag! 2700 bags and hundreds of tons of clay, gravel and sand and we are finally done. It’s been a very rewarding project. There are still lots of little things to do but now it looks and feels like a home instead of a construction site. I have learned so much during the whole process. The most important thing is that anyone can build a safe, affordable house with very few tools and no special skills.

Rocket video

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Short crappy video of my RMH burning quite well.

Edit: I tried to post a video, I really did. I guess working on computers for 25 years isn’t enough to be able to figure out what kids today seem to be born with. I tried posting from my android phone using the WordPress (cr)app

I will try again another time, another way.

Earthbags and a fire breathing couch

Laying earthbags for the final room on our house is well under way. So far the wall is about 6.5 ft tall. Still a ways to go though. This final room will be almost 20 feet tall.
Actually there will be one more very small room attached as well to hold firewood for the winter and will have a back door to the outside. Looks like it is going to rain all weekend so work will shift to the inside. Plenty to do in there before we are able to move in.

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The picture is of the north side of the house. There are no windows because this side will be bermed with earth to further protect us from the harsh north winds we get in winter.

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This is is the rocket-mass-heater (fire-breathing-couch) as it is right now. I still need to add about 3-4 inches of more cob to it and then a final lime finish plaster. So far, I am very pleased with how it functions. It roars with that awesome rocket sound and there is no smoke or smell coming into the room.

Homestead update

I’m making the move from blogger to wordpress. I have had it with the crap over at that site. They keep changing the user interface every 20 minutes. I especially hate the new one. So to hell with them. I’m still forced to use plenty of other googley products for work. Im sure there will be things about wordpress that will take me some gettting used to.

Lots of action here on the homestead ever since spring has hit. We’ve finalized our plans for the new home and have started laying earthbags for the final phase. It’s a twelve foot diameter room that will hold our offgrid electrical stuff as well as a 1000 gallon water tank. There will be a few other things in this space as well like a hot water tank. Also, we are putting in a loft for a spare bedroom.

Last fall we built a rocket mass heater in the living room. Although it worked well most of the time, it did have a few issues that really concerned me. Like once in a while the smoke would back up into the house. I didn’t have enough time before the deepfreeze of winter to test and tweek it properly. So a complete rebuild was called for. I am very happy with the new one so far. It draws well, has that awsome rocket sound and is a better fit for the room than the last design. One thing I learned while doing more research is that I probably did not have enough volume in the space where the gasses exit the heat exchange barrel. The proper way to figure out what you need for this space is outlined at the rocket stove forum in the helpful hint thread.

Some quick numbers for rocket stove enthusiasts: top gap from riser to barrel = 2.5 inches; gap between insulation and exchange barrel = 3 inches; overall system diameter = 7 inches; burn tunnel size = 5.5″x7″. I used the inside of a hot water tank for the insulation container and another for a container around the feed tube. Perlite was used for insulation of both the riser and under the burn tunnel as well.

Other projects we have been working on include plastering the earthbags structures already in place. Mrs. Mud has been working tirelessly at this. Tirelessly is probably the wrong term. She seems pretty bagged by the end of the day. Then she gets up the next day and goes hard at it again. We have such a short building season and so much to do. I recently started building rock retaining walls. To start with and get some experience, I built pedestals to put the rain barrels on. They actually turned out pretty good. Fencing the new garden areas is complete so we should end up with no cat shit in the gardens this year. Rainwater capture has been working out well for us too. All our water for drinking, coffee, tea, cooking has come from the sky now for a few months. It’s free and tastes a lot better than the water from our well. It will be nice when our rain capture can supply showers too.

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